A federal judge knocked down the Trump administration’s plan to indefinitely detain migrant children and their families, calling the move “inconsistent” with a long-standing agreement intended to shield migrant children from long-term incarceration.
“The Flores Settlement Agreement remains in effect and has not been terminated,” Judge Dolly Gee wrote in a court order issued Friday.
Gee’s ruling prevents the administration from implementing regulations that would have effectively gutted the landmark 1997 Flores agreement, which established standards for the treatment of unaccompanied migrant kids in terms of housing, medical care, education, nutrition and hygiene.
“How can you, as an officer of the court, tell me that the regulations are not inconsistent with the settlement agreement?” Gee reportedly asked a Justice Department lawyer on Friday.
Trump and members of his administration have repeatedly referred to Flores as a "loophole" that incentivizes immigration. The administration has taken issue with Gee’s 2015 decision to forbid the government from detaining children for more than 20 days.
The new rule, which was issued in August and would have gone into effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, would have allowed the administration to detain migrant children and their families for the duration of their immigration cases.
In briefs filed for Gee, the government argued that today’s immigration patterns have changed since 1997, according to CBS News. Immigration officials have argued that changing the regulations would dissuade migrant families from traveling to the U.S.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said families would be held in “campus-like” facilities, but advocates and immigration attorneys claim any kind of long-term detention can lead to long-term psychological harm for children.
ICE currently detains families in two facilities: the Berks County Family Detention Center in Pennsylvania, which has a capacity of around 90, and the South Texas Family Residential Center, which has a capacity of 1,250, according to federal data analyzed by the nonprofit group Freedom for Immigrants. Families were also previously detained at the Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, which ICE began using to detain adult women earlier this year. This week, the administration announced it would once again detain families at Karnes.
“The Flores settlement is the last bulwark against the Trump administration running roughshod over these children,” Carlos Holguin, a lawyer who has represented migrant children on the Flores case since the 1980s, reportedly said after the Friday hearing.
The Trump administration is likely to appeal Gee’s ruling, which could lead to a dismantling of the Flores settlement down the road.
Cover: In this July 9, 2019, file photo, immigrants line up in the dinning hall at the U.S. government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas. The government will be able to hold immigrant children detained at the Mexican border for a longer period of time under a move by the Trump administration (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)